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The Darker Life of Juan Luna: A Tale of Jealousy and Murder

The life of Juan Luna is decorated with triumphs and recognitions that belie a dark persona.
IMAGE The Lopez Memorial Museum Collection, Tammy David
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Textbooks have always painted a positive image of the life of Juan Luna: an ilustrado, a part of the Propaganda Movement, and the Philippines’ foremost master painter. And yet we gloss over the most glaring, terrifying, and tragic event that haunted Luna all throughout his life and beyond: He killed his wife and her mother.

In 1886, when Luna was 29 years old, he married the love of his life, Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, or simply Paz. After marrying, they sailed to Europe, making sure to stop by Venice and Rome before finally settling in Paris. Two years earlier, Luna had created the "Spoliarium," which won one of several gold medals at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes.

Luna and Pardo de Tavera lived happily for the first few years of their marriage. They had a son, Andres, who would later become one of the Philippines’ most discerning architect in the pre-war period. One of his most notable projects is the Crystal Arcade building, which was erected in 1932. Luna and Pardo de Tavera also had a daughter, Maria, who died during childbirth.

Jose Rizal (top left) with Paz Pardo de Tavera (second from left) having a good time with friends.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The couple came from respected families, were both well-off, and had plenty of things in common, including a close friendship with Jose Rizal. If photographs and Luna’s paintings of Pardo de Tavera offered clues, they’d tell a story of a content and happy relationship between the couple.

Monsieur Dussaq in the Life of Juan Luna

Life in Paris was romantic, until the arrival of one Monsieur Dussaq into the life of Juan Luna and Paz Pardo de Tavera. In 1892, four years into their marriage, Luna and Pardo de Tavera’s marriage was already on the rocks. Luna’s temper, like his brother Antonio’s, was not one to be toyed with for he had very poor control over his emotions. For Luna, anger and jealousy were two deadly tempests that also made him crazy.

Earlier in the year, Pardo de Tavera made the mistake of speaking to Luna quite fondly of a certain man whom she had met in Mont-Dore, a mountainous vacation destination in central France. Luna did not like what he heard. Months later, on September 4, 1892, Dussaq called on the Luna residence looking for Pardo de Tavera. Luna became enraged.

A Portrait of Paz Pardo de Tavera by Juan Luna

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Photo by Tammy David.

Luna threatened Pardo de Tavera that he would harm her if she continued to speak to other men, especially Dussaq. When he was not convinced of her fidelity, he made good on his threat, eventually assaulting and beating her. As if those were not enough, Luna also destroyed Pardo de Tavera's clothes, prompting her to leave him and seek refuge elsewhere.

Luna surreptitiously followed Pardo de Tavera and discovered that Dussaq was also in the house where she escaped to. Deranged and convinced that Pardo de Tavera was lying and having an affair, he returned to the house the following day and beat her with his cane.

Luckily, Doña Juliana, Pardo de Tavera’s mother, heard the commotion and immediately summoned her sons to protect her daughter from Luna, who threatened to shoot them with his revolver.

How Juan Luna Murdered His Wife and Mother-in-law

Weeks later on September 22, 1892, Pardo de Tavera’s brothers Trinidad and Felix came to visit and check on her and her son, who was sick at the time. The visit was brief, because the brothers decided to get breakfast at a nearby café.

Doña Juliana and Pardo de Tavera decided that they did not want to be left alone in the house, so they went downstairs and made their way to the café. But in the doorway, they saw Luna holding a gun. He fired multiple times at Pardo de Tavera and her mother, who screamed and ran back upstairs and locked themselves in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Trinidad and Felix heard the gunshots and ran back to the house immediately. Luna was prepared for them, and also fired at them, seriously wounding both brothers. Afterward, he went upstairs and looked for the two women, whom he found cowering on the bathroom floor.

He pointed his revolver at Doña Juliana and killed her with one shot to the head. Then, he turned his gun on his wife, and also shot her in the head. Somehow, she survived the gunshot, but eventually died in the hospital 11 days later.

Life of Juan Luna: How He Got Away with Murder

Five months after Luna murdered his wife and mother-in-law, a fact that he admitted to doing, he was acquitted by the court. It was a time when criminal and civil laws in Paris greatly favored men. In just one day of session, the court dismissed the charges against Luna on the grounds of temporary insanity caused by passion.

Apart from being found to have had temporary insanity when he killed his wife and her mother, an unwritten law in France at that time allowed husbands to punish or kill their wives who were found to commit adultery. In the end, the most punishment Luna was made to pay was a price of 40 francs, which was the cost of court documentation. Five days after his acquittal, he moved to Madrid with his son, where he spent the next 17 years.

The Pardo de Tavera family shunned Luna forever, for they never received the justice for the deaths of Doña Juliana and Paz Pardo de Tavera. Her brother, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, who would become a respected historian, doctor, and statesman, blackened out the face of Juan Luna in every family photograph where Luna was present. 

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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